And Still She Dreams of LA…

Lone palm + distant plane

A November weekend and a cheap plane ticket seemed like a good enough reason to visit LA, but add in a Torches show and an offer of a personalized tour of East Side neighborhoods I hadn’t yet explored? Sign me up! Here’s a budget tip for those wishing to travel to LA: Bob Hope Airport in Burbank: cheaper flights, less hassle, and that glamorous feeling of walking across the tarmac to your gate, with a beautiful view of the mountains just beyond.

Mountains beyond mountains (over Utah)

Desert mountains en route over Utah

Nice view Los Angeles!

View from The Hub, downtown LA

After I arrived I jumped right into the LA fun by meeting the wonderful ladies from the Academy for Handmade for lunch at LA son Roy Choi’s fast food rice bowl restaurant in Chinatown Chego! and then talked about their upcoming crowd funding campaign and exciting plans for their awards ceremony next year. They have a great space at The Hub, a really cool co-working and business incubator space in the Arts District in downtown LA (as an aside, my friend Sophia Stuart wrote a lovely piece on The Hub for LA I’m Yours).

Torches at the Echoplex

Torches play the Echoplex, November 8, 2013

Songs about cat castles and ouji boards... HOTT MT - great band!

HOTT MT at the Echoplex

Next we headed to drinks and dinner at Mohawk Bend, a local and seasonal inspired restaurant serving craft beers in Echo Park, followed by one of the best shows I’ve seen by Torches at the Echoplex. It’s been so amazing to watch this band steadily grow their career over the past year and a half. Their sound has grown bolder, but still anchored by catchy, jangle laden melodies and pensive lyrics. During some of the newer songs I felt my hairs standing on end. I hear they’re working on a new album, so I can’t wait for what is next for these enterprising musicians.  HOTT MT opened for them and they were a great discovery – songs about cat castles and ouji boards fronted by a very energetic singer who reminded me a bit of a female David Bowie!

Amazing Brunch at Cliff's Edge

Perfect brunch at Cliff’s Edge

Palms, palms and more palms!

The palms of Silver Lake

Saturday morning I joined my favorite music and fiction writer Liz Barker of the Strawberry Fields Whatever blog for a leisurely brunch in the lush back garden of the Cliff’s Edge, a super cute restaurant in Silver Lake with great “shabby chic” decor – I wish my apartment was decorated like that restaurant. Next I took a wander around the Silver Lake farmers market and picked up some handmade, soy, scented candles to remind me of LA back in cold Brooklyn.

At the “Eagle’s Nest” – Shakeytown Radio HQ

Then I joined my new (but very dear) zine friend Brodie Foster Hubbard for a customized tour of the East Side. We spent the afternoon sipping coffee and chatting about life and career choices before jumping in to recording an episode of his podcast “The Shakeytown Radio Hour.” I’m really happy with the results and invite you to listen in on us talking about pursing and building a DIY life, job and negotiating a creative lifestyle and career in uncertain economic times.

Craziest thing I've ever eaten... DIY doughnut! Thanks @brodiehubbard

Very excited about my DIY Donut at Donut Friend!

Brodie took me on a guided tour of Eastside neighborhoods that I hadn’t gotten a chance to see yet: Eagle Rock, Atwater Village and Highland Park. We stopped into Pop Hop, a great used, new and art book shop, and then headed to Donut Friend, a donut shop among LA donut shops if I’ve ever seen one. It’s owned by Mark Trombino, the drummer from Drive Like Jehu, and features vegan and gluten free options. There’s a variety of pre-made donut delights, all named after bands, and I had to stop myself from picking up a tshirt that says “Rites of Sprinkles” on it… on second though, I might mail order one… but Brodie and I both opted for the “DIY donut” option (of course!) and I ended up concocting one I called the “Northern Soul” – a chocolate cake donut with ricotta cheese and raspberry jam filling, with maple glaze and coconut bacon on top. I also deemed it the “Craziest thing I have ever eaten.” And it was delicious.

Took a beautiful Sunday hike in Malibu!

Hiking in Solstice Canyon

The next morning Brodie and I headed to the Freeways Collide zine event and picked up some great little zines about Joy Division, witchery and being a gemini from Deirdree, and then took a wander through the Hollywood farmers market. I was happy I got to finally check out this bonanza of fresh produce and street food and after filling up on ice coffee, pupusas and persimmons, I met up with my friend Kabir and headed towards Malibu for an afternoon hike. A Sunday drive to Malibu is practically an LA tradition for me now and I was glad that Kabir and Emily came with me to check out a new (to me) hiking spot: Solstice Canyon (there’s a great site for hikes in and around LA called Modern Hiker that my friend Phoebe pointed me to, very very helpful!). We hiked along the bottom of the canyon to the ruins of a mid-century ranch and then up the hill for sweeping views of the Pacific. It was perfect.

Pacific View from Solstice Canyon

The view of the Pacific from Solstice Canyon

Back in downtown LA I got to try a French dip sandwich at Cole’s, one of the two “original” French dip restaurants, which I loved for its dark wood bar and classic cocktails. Then Kabir and I went to our favorite spot for a Sunday night in LA, Mignon wine bar (just two doors down from Cole’s) for some great hand selected wine and artisanal cheese and the sweetest servers ever. The perfect end to another great LA weekend.

Downtown LA from Griffith Park

Hazy downtown LA from Griffith Park

I headed home on Monday, but first squeezed in a hike in Griffith Park to gaze dreamily at the downtown city scape and bake in the sun and then a coconut kale smoothie at Naturewell to round off the visit. It’s a good thing I got the sun and my vitamins in too. The next day, back in New York, it snowed. How’s that for some cognitive dissonance?

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To Los Angeles with Love

Malibu Sunset

Malibu Sunset

As a way to torture myself a little bit I loaded LA weather on my phone, so the other day when it was twelve degrees in New York City I could console myself with sunnier thoughts, knowing it was in the 70s in Los Angeles. Thankfully, winter can also be a great time to score cheap plane tickets, so when round trip prices from JFK to LAX dipped below $300 snagged one for a long weekend in the city that is my current source of infatuation, just in time for the first annual LA Art Book Fair.

LA early morning from Griffith Park

LA early morning from Griffith Park

I made time to visit my (new) favorite haunts in Silver Lake and Echo Park and to see friends, but also to explore more nooks and crannies of this sprawling metropolis. After a walk at the Baldwin Hills Scene Overlook and coffee to shake off my jetlag on Friday morning I headed downtown for the art book fair, which was being held at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Building. As is the nature of these events I was immediately overwhelmed with bound creations and intriguing exhibitions, but I especially loved the “zine world” section of the fair and hope that one day I too could be considered a “zine master of the universe.”

In "Zine World" at the LA Art Book Fair

In “Zine World” at the LA Art Book Fair

Zine exhibitor at the LA Art Book Fair

Zine exhibitor at the LA Art Book Fair

I also feel like this trip gave me more chance to talk with artists, writers and creative types (outside of the film biz) who are making their lives and work in LA. I was especially excited to meet Mimi of the architectural zine and blog Loud Paper who recently moved from Brooklyn and was working the table for the LA Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, whose dayglo posters with quotes from LA architects and planners drew me from across the room. I also noticed some general trends in art books and zines at the fair: neon as an accent color was hot, everyone had a tote bag for sale, and about half of the zines available had some kind of homoerotic content (mostly male).

The poster on the upper right is now mine!

The poster on the upper right is now mine!

Friday evening coincided with (my) discovery of some of the restaurants and bars of the “Arts district” downtown (which may or may not have any actual artists still living there), with delicious continental beers at Wurstkuche (though I passed on the rattlesnake sausage they had on offer) and a suburbly proportioned, locally sourced dinner at Eat Drink Americano. Later that evening at the Satellite I discovered a new favorite band: the Happy Hollows, who enthusiastic delivery was matched only by the crowd’s enthusiastic reception. After New York’s jaded rock audiences, seeing the Happy Hollows and the warm crowd at the Satellite was a welcome change.

I started my Saturday with a lovely walk in Griffith Park and a pass through the Silver Lake farmer’s market for a coconut, kale and dandelion green smoothie. I later took a wander around West Hollywood, including a glance inside the beautiful new library, and had a wonderful chat all facilitated by Team Gloria, who is my constant source for writing and lifestyle inspiration. After a delicious, lingering brunch conversation about writing, zines and life in LA with Liz at Barbrix in Silver Lake I swung back by the book fair. I was so exhausted by the artistic possibilities I saw I had to take a nap before braving the freeways to Orange County.

Torches at the Constellation Room

Torches at the Constellation Room

As if my LA weekend couldn’t get any dreamier, my friends Torches let me know they were playing a last minute (and sold out!) show in Orange County at the Constellation Room. Despite my culture shock of finding a decent rock club in the middle of a suburban office park, to see Torches on their (sort of) home turn in Southern California was a dream come true. It was really fun to hear their new material, meet their new bassist Braedon, and see a whole group of fans gaze at them adoringly. The newer material rocks a little harder than the songs they played in NYC this fall and their set was full of pop hooks and great vocal harmonies and tremendous drumming by Eric. You can get a taste (and download a new track!) on their Soundcloud page.

I’m also proud to say that thanks to my Orange County jaunt I’ve started to perfect the art of talking like an Angelino and saying things like “Take the 605, to the 405, to the 5, to the 101, to the 110,” when discussing getting around.

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Azad and Braeden from Torches at the Constellation Room

Azad's pedal board

Azad’s pedal board

Sunday was a complete change of pace with a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, through Malibu, to hike down a canyon at Circle X Ranch, an outing carefully orchestrated by my friend Phoebe and accompanied by my gracious host Kabir. After shuffling along NYC’s icy streets, to be out in the desert sun, smelling spring flowers and marveling at the sandstone cliffs felt like an entirely different world and completely freeing.

Hiking at Circle X Ranch

Hiking at Circle X Ranch

Hiking at Circle X Ranch

Hiking at Circle X Ranch

To reward ourselves for our hiking efforts we stopped at Neptune’s Net, a fried seafood shack that is a favorite among the biker crowd. Between perfectly grilled fish tacos, crispy fried shrimp and a glimmering view of the pacific I was completely satisfied. The day was completed by watching the sun sink into the water, followed by a glass of wine and an excellent plate of artisanal cheese at super cute downtown wine bar Mignon.

Along the Pacific Coast Highway

Along the Pacific Coast Highway

Neptune's Net, a seafood shack favored by the biker set

Neptune’s Net, a seafood shack favored by the biker set

Suffice it to say, LA is still casting its spell on me and continues to lure me with all of its charms. I hope I can go back soon.

Downtown LA from Baldwin Hill Scenic Overlook

Downtown LA from Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook

My Top Five Songs of 2012 (plus one!)

Happy last day of 2012 everyone! Like many music nerds I used to make a top ten list of the new albums I had bought, and loved, each year. I’ve majorly backed off on buying albums and also lived under a music rock for quite some time. However, thanks to some good friends who clued me back into music and to services like Spotify (controversial, I know, but great for discovering new music), as well as going to big music events like South by South West and CMJ I feel like I’ve gotten back in the music game (and have bought albums, not just streamed them for free, thank you very much!). So here’s my top five songs, plus one bonus, that came out this year that have stuck with me.

I love Tame Impala’s fuzzed out pop. It’s catchy, it’s trippy and I feel like I can listen to it forever.

My favorite musical discovery this year: great songs, great people and a great future ahead for Torches. And a great video.

I’ll be honest that this video is hard for me to watch, especially as someone who used to work in violence prevention. But! Alt-J (∆) is a fantastic band and this song has been on repeat since I first heard it.

I realize I’m cheating a little bit on the Local Natives – their album Hummingbird, which features “Breakers,” comes out in January of 2013 and I’ve already pre-ordered my copy, but this single came out this year and it’s fabulous.

Grimes is wonderful and weird. It kind of irks me she’s become somewhat of a fashion icon (she’s featured in Vogue every month it seems), but good for her. She must have a good agent. I still like her music though.

Wild Nothing sounds like a wander through all my top 80’s bands. And as a travel junkie I appreciate this video.

Also, based on Flavorpill’s annual stereotyping of people based on their favorite record of the year I am either: a boring English dude (Alt-J), a shaggy haired dude who stands in front of you at shows (Tame Impala), or a girl who updates her Tumblr several times an hour (Grimes).

What were your favorite songs of 2012?

Have a safe and happy new years, everyone!

Stoked on New York: My CMJ Week

Corita performs as a three piece at our 2012 CMJ showcase

The annual College Music Journal, or CMJ, festival is an event I usually try to avoid. During those five days in October I find that my usual favorite music venues are mobbed with people who have no idea how to act at a New York show (what is this youthful enthusiasm they exhibit?).  I have noticed that the high energy and packed schedule of events seem to make me more tired than excited. However, when my band Corita was selected to play an official CMJ showcase and our friends Torches came east for their first New York shows this I decided that this year I would come out of my curmudgeonly shell and participate in the festival. What followed was one of the most fun, sleep deprived weeks of my entire life.  Below is a recap.

Torches play their first NYC show ever at Arlene’s Grocery

While the official CMJ festival began on Tuesday, I kicked off the week a little early on Monday night to see Torches’ first-ever show in New York City. You may remember my bandmates and I met Torches in a parking lot outside of a bike shop at South by South West in March (they used to be called Torches in Trees, but they now just go by Torches). We were struck by their genuine excitement about the music they were making, the beauty of their songs and commitment to making their band a success. I was also doubly glad to see them because to get to New York on Monday they had driven straight to NYC from Minneapolis, about a 20 hour drive, after their show there on Sunday night.

Torches close out their first NYC show at Arlene’s Grocery

Having lived in NYC for eleven years now, sometimes I forget how frenetic it can be. Showing Torches around the Lower East Side was a fantastic chance to see the city through new eyes, and update my knowledge of my hometown as we ran around testing bars, pizza places and late night dining options.

On Tuesday, running on two hours of sleep, I picked up my official CMJ badge. Looking at it I took a moment to reflect on the fact that Corita is actually working slowly, at our own pace, to establish ourselves as a band. I also made a last minute flyer to give out.

Official 2012 CMJ artist badge!

My attempt at “marketing and promotion”

Wednesday was Corita’s showcase show at Fontana’s, a great club on the Lower East Side which also hosted our first show ever over three years ago. It is rare to find bookers and promoters who are supportive of independent music in Manhattan and who take the time to care about your band at all, but Jasper at Fontana’s has been there for us and we felt really privileged to be part of their “faves” showcase. The only wrinkle was that our bassist Aileen wasn’t there. She was stuck dealing with a situation that included tabloids, court room brawls, tears and the Walking Dead. We soldiered on as a three piece and I think pulled off a pretty rockin’ show.

Corita as a three piece at our CMJ showcase at Fontana’s

Corita at Fontana’s during CMJ

Corita footwear/hardware/pedals

To continue the CMJ madness, as soon as we finished our set and thanked our friends for coming my friend Minnie (who took the pictures of Corita here) and I ran 10 blocks north just in time to catch Torches’ second New York show, which was part of an official showcase for Rockstar Motel. Minnie was in town from Paris via Montreal to soak up as much NYC as she could in a short time.

Torches at Santos Party House

I took a night off on Thursday and Friday got to keep the party going with the master of partying himself, Andrew W.K. as Torches were playing a show at Santos Party House.

Torches play Santos Party House during CMJ

Girl trouble: Minnie and Bridgette

Saturday I felt I could start to recover from the frantic week of rock and work, enjoy my friends’ company and take in more rock shows. The day started with an assessment of the state of my apartment, which resembled the fallout after an indie rock bomb explosion. In the midst of this I made apple cinnamon pancakes to fortify us all for the night of rock and roll ahead.

The chaos and energy of CMJ extended all the way into my apartment

Apple pancakes to fuel the rock’n’roll lifestyle

Saturday night brought the discovery of two new-to-me (but maybe old news to everyone else) bands: Weekend and Wild Nothing. Weekend treads heavily in early 1990s shoegaze territory, which is one of my favorite periods of music, and I heard echoes of the Stone Roses, Ride and even a little New Order in their set. Wild Nothing solidly references 1980s New Wave and I felt like I heard snippets of the Smiths, the Cure, and more New Order all evening. Because I have a tendency to listen the same music over and over, being inspired to get off my duff and find out about new bands was refreshing.

Weekend at the Bowery Ballroom for CMJ

Wild Nothing at the Bowery Ballroom during CMJ

While CMJ officially finished on Saturday, Torches still had one more NYC show on Sunday night, so we were able to extend the party a little longer. At Pianos they shared the stage with The Golden Awesome, a band based in New Zealand that makes beautiful, drony, dreamy pop that is reminiscent of Stereolab or Broadcast.

Torches open their final show in NYC at Pianos

Bridgette from Torches on the snare drum at Pianos

Torches’ final NYC shows was one of their best, though I loved being able to catch them four times during the week.  Their songs contain shimmering pop riffs, memorable hooks and beautiful vocal harmonies that are driven by thoughtful lyrics. Despite hailing from sunny Los Angeles, Torches songs tend towards the dark, but there’s always a kernel of redemption in them. It’s been exciting to watch their progress as a band since we met them in March and I know they have much more in store as a band.

Azad and Eric from Torches at Pianos

Bridgette from Torches at Pianos

After their show and some celebratory pizza I waved goodbye to Torches as they prepared to drive through the night to their final show on tour in Chicago. As we promised to see each other soon I realized that one of the reasons I love being involved in indie rock, for lack of a better term, is the friendships I’ve forged over the years. It still amazes me that I can meet people who live so far from me, with very different life experiences, and bond so quickly and complicity. The music gives us a venue to share our sources of creativity and inspiration and connect around some of the things that we hold most dear to our lives.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the official video for Torches’ song “I Want Something”:

Thank you, all, for great week. Also, on a practical note, Torches are running an Indie Go Go campaign to raise money to record their new album. Check it out and give if you want to be part of seeing an inspiring, emerging band “make it.”